Understanding Dual Diagnosis: How to Plan Your Treatment Path - The Discovery House Los Angeles CA
Understanding Dual Diagnosis: How to Plan Your Treatment Path

Understanding Dual Diagnosis: How to Plan Your Treatment Path

There are approximately 21 million people living in the United States with a substance abuse problem. 8 million of them also have a mental health issue.

This is known as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. 

How are the two disorders connected and how does it affect treatment options?

Here are some answers. 

Which Came First

The dual diagnosis condition can seem like the chicken and the egg riddle. Which came first? Did the mental illness cause the substance abuse or vice versa? 

There is no real evidence to suggest that a mental health disorder causes substance abuse but adults with mental illness are twice as likely to also use drugs and/or alcohol. 

There is a complicated dynamic between the two. When mental health disorders are left untreated, the chance of substance abuse increases. As substance abuse increases, often so does the mental illness. 

Some individuals with a mental disorder will turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate in an attempt to feel better, mask emotional pain or just alter their mood.

The problem is the feeling doesn’t last and can, in fact, make the underlying mental disorder even worse. In addition, mental illness can cause a person to fear or delay treatment for one or both of their conditions. 

It can become easy to fall into a vicious cycle where the two problems are intertwined and feed off of each other. People are resistant to face even one dilemma, much less two. The key, however, to overcoming both is acceptance, knowledge, and help from a dual diagnosis treatment facility. 

The Chemical Interaction

Mental illness is a biological disorder where the neurotransmitters within the brain have trouble communicating. This is a chemical reaction. Drugs and alcohol also affect the chemicals in the brain. The two combined can have a devastating effect.

Antidepressants, when mixed with a stimulate street drug like cocaine, carries a risk of seizures. Mixed with marijuana, it can cause hypomania. 

Lithium, when mixed with alcohol or esctasy, may increase dehydration and lead to a toxic level of the lithium. 

When medications with a sedating property are used with street drugs that also slow down body functions, the risk rises for overdose. 

Any two substances taken together, or close together, will interact. The effects will either increase or decrease and there is always the possibility of one turning toxic. 

Detoxification should take place with trained professionals at a dual diagnosis treatment facility to ensure the safest outcome for the patient. 

Why a Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center Works 

Years ago individuals with a mental illness and a substance abuse issue had to be treated at two different facilities, often at different times. This approach often failed one or the other disorders, if not both, and was usually too overwhelming for the patient to continue. Relapse was very often the result of this separation of care. 

A dual diagnosis condition requires a dual diagnosis treatment center. The doctors and staff are trained and equipped to handle the unique situations that arise with this condition. 

Someone suffering from mental health problems and substance abuse will feel highly distressed, disconnected and often terrified. Thoughts of suicide are higher within this group of individuals. 

A dual diagnosis facility can orchestrate the treatment of both conditions simultaneously. 


It is vital when an individual enters a treatment facility that they feel accepted, as is, with all of their issues. If they feel the need to hide or distort their emotional problems, it will hinder their overall progress. A dual treatment facility understands the importance of treating the whole person; body and mind. 

Understanding the intricate and strong connection between substance abuse and mental illness enables the doctors and staff to treat each individual patient with respect and formulate a specific plan for their long term success. 

Targeted Therapy

Dual diagnosis treatment centers have licensed mental health professionals on staff.

During one-on-one sessions or group therapy, issues such as depression, anxiety, compulsive thoughts, and hopelessness are addressed in connection with the substance abuse concern. 

The doctors recognize the unique complications involved and know how to help the patient get to the root of their problems and then work towards a recovery plan that addresses both conditions. 

They will also work closely oversee the mental health status of an individual going through detox and ensure their physical and emotional needs are monitored.

Drugs and alcohol are used to mask the devastating effects of mental illness. When a patient can learn techniques to manage the stress, anxiety or depression the chance of relapse goes down. 


The professionals at a dual diagnosis treatment center are trained in how to correctly administer and prescribe medication for a patient suffering from both types of disorders. 

They are aware of the risk, interactions, and viability of medicines that may need to be taken long term to treat a mental health issue. They educate the patient on the dangers of mixing other drugs and alcohol with these medications so the individual leaves the center aware of the dangerous side-effects of that combination. 

The Family Link

Substance abuse and mental illness never affect just one person. The entire family suffers on many levels and their involvement in the recovery is vital. 

Education is the first key to helping family members understand the link between the dual diagnosis. There has likely been distrust, pain and possibly even guilt transferred over to members of the patient’s family. Learning how all of these elements connect can help start the restoration process. 

Triggers are discussed and group family therapy sessions give insight and tools for handling potential bumps in the road going forward. Forgiveness is discussed and the process of rebuilding trust begins. 

Dual diagnosis does not exist in a vacuum. Families are often devastated and confused. Bringing them into the treatment plan provides a greater chance of lasting recovery. 

Discover the Difference

At The Discovery House, we recognize the delicate approach required with a dual diagnosis. 

We believe in treating the entire person. We understand the connection between the body, mind and spirit and our approach targets each aspect with individualized treatment options. 

For more information on how we can assist you or your loved one contact us.